Month: April 2014

LI lawyers acquitted after three-week corruption trial

Two Long Island lawyers were acquitted Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn of conspiracy, fraud and money-laundering charges linked to corruption at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Michael Freeman, 66, of Manhasset, a former chairman of the Nassau Community College board, and Lee Hymowitz, 62, of Oceanside, were charged in a kickback and bribery scheme involving former HPD assistant Commissioner Wendell Walters.

The jury returned its not guilty verdict on the second day of deliberations following a three-week trial.

Prosecutors alleged that Hymowitz and Freeman, partners in a New York City law firm, and developer Stevenson Dunn jointly owned a real estate company that allowed contractors on HPD projects to inflate their invoices in return for kickbacks.

Dunn, a high school friend of Walters, was also charged with bribing him. Hymowitz and Freeman were accused of concocting a sham legal retainer agreement to disguise more than $100,000 in kickbacks, which were then billed to taxpayers through HPD.

Defense lawyers for Hymowitz and Freeman argued that the retainer was legitimate and their clients weren’t part of a kickback scheme.

After the verdict, some jurors waited outside the courthouse to congratulate the defendants.

“I just want to get back to work and do what I do, which has been practicing law for the last 40 years,” Freeman told a reporter.

Hymowitz declined to comment.

Dunn was also acquitted. Walters pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2012 and appeared as a witness at the trial.

Lawyers and Developer Acquitted of Scheme

A federal jury has acquitted two attorneys and a real estate developer of taking part in a kickback and bribery scheme connected to projects by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The three defendants—attorneys Lee Hymowitz and Michael M. Freeman of Manhattan and real estate developer Stevenson Dunn—were found not guilty after a three-week trial in the Eastern District and two days of jury deliberations.

The 2011 multi-defendant indictment also had ensnared Wendell Walters, an assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to accepting $2.5 million in bribes and taking other benefits. Walters, still awaiting sentencing, testified for the prosecution in the recent trial. All other defendants have pleaded guilty.

Though prosecutors argued the kickbacks were disguised in a retainer agreement for a contractor who testified at trial for the government, the attorneys’ defense insisted the retainer at issue, containing about $100,000, was used for lawful services.

Freeman was represented by Gerald DiChiara and Nicholas Pinto. In an interview, Pinto said he was “glad justice was done. Mr. Freeman is anxious to move on with his life.” Hymowitz was represented by Maurice Sercarz and Robert Caliendo of Sercarz & Riopelle. Robert Anthony Evans, Jr. of the Law Offices of Evans and Al Shabazz represented Dunn.

“I couldn’t be more happy than I am right now,” Sercarz said in an interview, noting that he, Hymowitz, Freeman and DiChiara worked together almost 40 years ago in the Legal Aid Society. Sercarz called the case the “most emotional case I ever tried. I represented somebody I knew for all that time, as did Mr. DiChiara. I can’t tell you how hard this was.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cristina Posa and Anthony Capozzolo appeared for the prosecution.

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